Philadelphia needs to fix several causes of poverty in order to resolve a problem that is not new to the city.
On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released what many considered to be shocking news: The overall U.S. poverty rate rose from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest poverty rate since 1994.
Though some demographers’ jaws didn’t drop – with the number of jobs lost during the recession, estimates for the poverty rate were between 14.7 percent and 15 percent – the numbers astonished commentators, talking heads and everyday U.S. citizens.
But for Philadelphians, these numbers are nothing but a stale loaf of bread.
In 2008, the individual poverty rate in Philadelphia stood at 24.3 percent. The number of families below poverty level was 19 percent. If these digits, decimals and percentages are burying the bottom line, let me spell it out for you: For years, Philadelphia has suffered what the entire country is just experiencing now, and though the numbers are upsetting for a hurting U.S. population, the country will eventually rebound while the city remains stagnant.
And this isn’t a far-fetched prediction. The Census Bureau has yet to release the rates that trickle down to the city or county levels. Only states’ poverty levels were released (Pennsylvania’s overall rate is 11.1 percent), but it only takes a glance back into the history of American Fact Finder to envision what numbers will be when they are released.
The 2000 Census reported the individual poverty rate in the city was 22.9 percent compared to the then-national average of 12.4 percent. We haven’t progressed at all within a decade. And although the U.S. will rebound, the city isn’t the only place having problems moving forward. The world as a whole is, too.
The United Nations released a statement Sept. 16 saying it is experiencing difficulties in meeting the Millennium Development Goals’ benchmarks to reduce “poverty, hunger, maternal-and-child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.”
The U.N. cited a lack of aid as one reason it will not be able to meet goals. Philadelphia could cite the same as one of the poorest cities in the U.S., but money is only part of the solution.
As Philadelphia magazine’s Tim Whitaker wrote in a Sept. 16 blog post, “poverty begets violence; poverty is the cause of illiteracy; poverty causes schools to fail; and until you make great inroads into the deep poverty that bedevils this city, greatness can never be achieved.”
While Whitaker’s statements are true, Philadelphians must reverse the order of his words to truly begin combating poverty. Illiteracy is the cause of poverty. Schools fail, causing people to be uneducated, unable to find work and to slip into poverty. The more people slip into poverty, the more children will be born into it as well.
These problems may not have easy fixes, but the issues are manageable. If Philadelphia’s poverty rate is ever expected to decrease, the people need to take control.
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.